White House calls dialogue with Congress on Syria ‘robust’

Congressional leaders are demanding answers about the Obama administration's plans on Syria, and the White House said Thursday that they'll get some. Senior administration officials plan to brief select members during a teleconference at 6 p.m. Thursday, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Administration officials on the call will include national security adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the director of national intelligence and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Earnest said. He called it one in a series of conversations between the White House and Congress on the U.S. response to reports of chemical weapons attacks that killed hundreds of civilians in Syria,

"That conference call is just the latest in a series of robust congressional consultations that everybody from the president on down in the administration have been engaged in over the last few days," Earnest said.

The spokesman emphasized that while the administration has concluded that the attacks were perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, President Obama has not yet finalized a decision about whether to respond with military air strikes against Syrian targets.

On Wednesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a letter to Obama demanding that he personally "make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests."

Obama briefed Boehner during a phone call Thursday afternoon, according to Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck. The speaker pressed Obama on the concerns outlined in his letter, Buck said, adding that “it is clear that further dialogue and consultation with Congress, as well as communication with the American public, will be needed.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) had been in regular contact with President Obama in recent days, according to Senate aides.

White House officials have not indicated that the president would seek Congressional approval before striking Syria. With Congress on summer recess through next week, the teleconference will take place with members calling in from their districts across the country.

Some GOP senators were meeting separately at the White House with senior officials for ongoing talks on the budget, and Earnest said the officials were prepared to talk about Syria if asked.

"The president believes it's important for us to consult with Congress," Earnest said. "We've done that in a robust way that has involved reading out some of the conversations that the president and other have had with our allies around the globe, that has involved the sharing of some intelligence, although that's difficult to do in this setting because, as I mentioned, the conference call is unclassified."

Ed O'Keefe contributed to this story.

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.
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Ed O'Keefe · August 29, 2013